fork in the road

Android forks: Why Google can rest easy. For now.

A collaboration with Ruadhan O’Donoghue, published on Below is a short excerpt; visit Mobiforge for the full article.

With worldwide sales of phones based on Android forks on the up, and with big cloud competitor Amazon consolidating its move into the Android-based OS space race with the release of the Fire phone, it’s time to look at Android forks. What is a fork? When is a fork not really a fork? And what do they mean for users and developers?

What is an Android fork?

There are two kinds of Android forks – ‘compatible’ and ‘non-compatible’. ‘Compatible’ Android forks are those that are based on the Android Open Source Project (AOSP); comply with the Android Compatibility Definition Document (CDC); and pass the Compatibility Test Suite (CTS) (see here).

The CDC defines compatibility across all technical aspects of a device, covering hardware, such as minimum acceptable specifications (e.g. minimum screensize, RAM, and storage are all specified), and also acceptable software configurations including UI, native APIs, and security models.

The CTS is a downloadable test-harness which executes JUnit test-cases, packaged as Android .apk files, on a target device or simulator to determine its compatibility.

Compatible forks may or may not include Google apps (gApps) or Google Play Services, but, because they’re ‘compatible’, gApps and Play Services can be sideloaded or added later by users, meaning they can participate fully in the Play app ecosystem. Examples include CyanogenMod and the MIUI OS. ‘Non-compatible’ forks are built on AOSP, but are built to run their own ecosystems. These forks are locked out of Play Services, though many Google apps can be sideloaded without rooting, and the Play Store installed on rooted devices. Examples of ‘non-compatible’ Android devices in the West (we’ll talk about China and Asia later) include the Amazon Fire phone and the soon-to-be-discontinued Nokia X.

Some history

On 5 November 2007 a group of technology companies announced the development of Android through the Open Handset Alliance (OHA). Android, per the announcement, would be ‘made available under one of the most progressive, developer-friendly open-source licenses, which gives mobile operators and device manufacturers significant freedom and flexibility to design products.’ That license was and is Apache 2.0, but for manufacturers the ‘freedom and flexibility’ touted in the announcement was qualified almost from the start. The most obvious lock-in was the requirement for any manufacturer wanting to gain access to what used to be called the Android Market (now the Play Store) and to leverage the Android brand (trademarked by Google) to sign up to the OHA – and signing up to the OHA meant signing up to an anti-fragmentation agreement. This agreement is a non-disclosure one, but in practice, it means not releasing handsets that failed the compatibility test suite (CTS), and the CTS was and is controlled by Google.

So while AOSP was open, and manufacturers, in theory, were free to do whatever they wanted with it – including forking – in practice anyone wanting to get access to the juicy, marketable bits of Android: the app store, the Google suite of apps (Gmail, Maps, and so on [1]), had to sign up to the OHA, and had to cede an awful lot of control to Google. In a 2012 blog post, Google’s Andy Rubin described this as a ‘virtuous cycle’: sign up to the OHA, make ‘compatible’ Android phones, and ‘all members of the ecosystem’ – app developers, OEMs, consumers – benefit. Alternatively, as Google engineer Dan Morrill wrote in an internal email: ‘[…] we are using compatibility as a club to make [OEMs] do what we want.’


Image: Wonderlane.


Emoji set to live long and prosper – thanks to Unicode

A collaboration with Ruadhan O’Donoghue, published on Below is a short excerpt; visit Mobiforge for the full article.

While emoji were big in Japan from the time of their launch (and supported by a Gmail Labs feature from 2009), they began to truly proliferate internationally with the launch of Apple’s iOS 5, and its preloaded bank of emoji characters, in late 2011.

Take a look at Twitter or Tumblr today, and both platforms are overrun with yellow faces in various states of distress or joy; dancing girls; and smiling turds. When nude photos were stolen from her phone—allegedly due to a breach in iCloud’s security—and released on 4Chan last week, Kirsten Dunst used emoji to succinctly register her outrage:

Kirsten Dunst icloud twitterOr take a look at, which tracks emojis on Twitter in real time, and you’ll see that emoji use numbers in the tens of billions. Some of the most popular are unsurprising—hearts feature heavily in the top ten—others are… rather more baffling. 2.6 million uses of ‘Aubergine’, anyone?


Image: The All-Nite Images


‘The internet can work in a much better way than newspapers have’

Last week, we published a piece, The true value of John Waters, which speculated as to the possible value, in cold hard cash, of controversial opinion columns to a newspaper website’s bottom line. The piece was intended as a thought experiment, rather than as an accountancy exercise, as clarified by its author in a follow-up piece on his blog, but caught the imaginations of enough people that the Irish Times’s online editor, Hugh Linehan, was prompted to respond – in a comment on his own column, Online issues lost amid Twitterphobia, on the Irish Times website:

“I can honestly tell you that the financial benefit of these pieces is negligible. Some people have been impressed by the article you’ve linked to and the conclusions it draws because it appears to have crunched real numbers. However, all those conclusions and most of the numbers are wrong.”

Which led to the following exchange on Twitter: Continue reading →

no signs

A No vote won’t bring change, but it’s a start

A piece written with Niamh de Barra for the CrisisJam Fiscal Treaty Referendum special.

I didn’t know why I was voting No, exactly. There were a few reasons, a nebulous fog of them, swirling around the pit of my gut and pulsing in my temples.

So, I decided to turn it on its head, think outside the box, innovate, get real in the real world. I went looking for reasons to vote ‘Yes’ and found jobs, stability, growth, and lots of talk of confidence that didn’t inspire any.

The Irish Exporters’ Association tells us that a Yes vote will give:

“Confidence to Irish exporters many customers  in  the eurozone” (sic)

The American Chamber of Commerce spells out VOTE YES with the first letter of each of its reasons for doing just that – perhaps trying to twee us into acquiescence. For the E in YES we get:

“Ensure confidence in Ireland’s ability to restore growth.”

Enda Kenny is confident we need confidence, as is Michael Noonan. Continue reading →

IBRC tops the list for top earners at State-owned banks

Of all the State-covered institutions for which information is available, IBRC (formerly Anglo) has – proportionately – by far the largest number of staff earning €100,000 a year or more. By Eadaoin O’Sullivan.

143 employees at State owned IBRC are earning €100,000 or more a year, according to information released in the Dáil to Fianna Fáil Finance Spokesman Michael McGrath.

At State-owned AIB, 861 employees are earning €100,000 or more, while at Permanent TSB the figure stands at 61. Bank of Ireland has yet to supply the information requested by McGrath.

According to its Annual Report for 2011, IBRC employed 1,186 people as of December 2011. Assuming no major change in staffing levels in the five months since, the figures released today indicate that some 12% of IBRC employees earn €100,000 a year or more. This ‘basic salary’ figure does not include other elements of the remuneration package, including pension contributions, subscriptions, health insurance and company cars.

By comparison, 5.9% of employees at ‘pillar bank’ AIB earn upwards of €100,000 (total staff numbers in AIB as at December 2011 stood at 14,501) while the smaller PTSB offers 2.7% of staff basic salaries of €100,000 or more. Total staff numbers at PTSB as at 27 February 2012 stood at 2,243.Total personnel costs at AIB in 2011 stood at €935m. The cost of paying 804 individuals basic salaries of €100,000; 45 individuals €200,000, and 12 individuals €300,000 – assuming all those individuals were paid at the lower level (the figures are presented as ranges – €100,000-€199,000, etc.) – is €93m, or 10% of AIB’s total personnel costs. (Assuming these individuals were paid at the mid-range – €150,000; €250,000; €350,000 – gives a figure of 14.5%.)

Performing the same calculations for IBRC we find that 143 (12%) of its employees accounted for 16.35% of total staff costs – at the lower level – or 22.99% – at the mid-range.

Last year, IBRC chief executive Mike Aynsley earned a basic salary of €500,000, which was topped up with a pension contribution of €125,000, a car allowance of €38,000 and temporary allowances (‘temporary relocation assistance which includes rent, travel and other agreed expenses’) of €203,000 to bring his total remuneration to €866,000.

Last month, Michael Noonan told the Dáil (in a written answer) that 24 individuals at AIB were earning over €250,000 – prompting Fianna Fáil’s Eamon Ó Cuív to say “the Government must now move as quickly as legally possible to ensure that the public service pay cap is enforced at AIB, and make sure that any new entrants don’t earn beyond that public service pay cap.”

A pay cap of €250,000 at semi-State companies and of €200,000 in the public sector is currently in place.

In 2009 – the latest year for which figures are available – 4.06% of all public sector workers earned in excess of €100,000. {jathumbnailoff}

Number of employees with basic salaries   AIB PTSB IBRC
>€100,000 –


804 52 119
>€200,000 –


45 7 16
>€300,000 12 2 8
playing cards

The screwed up State we’re in

A piece written for the December 2011 CrisisJam special The State We’re In.

Gene Kerrigan summed up the State We’re In in one word: screwed. He’s right, of course. We are screwed. It’s patently obvious that we’re screwed. The rapidity of Ireland’s descent into screwed-ity, and the depths to which we have plunged, is unparalleled in what the IMF calls the “advanced economies”. We are, let’s say, very seriously screwed.

One would think that, given the seriousness of this screwedness, this state we’re in; given the effects of this crisis on our public services, our welfare system, our low-paid workers, our emigrating thousands, our jobless thousands; given the despair, the hopelessness, the misery being suffered by so many people all over this country because of stupid decisions made and stupid policies pursued; one would think, given all of this and more, that the months since February’s election would have seen some serious political arguments being played out as the country, and the country’s politicians, grappled with the screwed up state we’re in. Continue reading →

enda kenny eamon gilmore

This ship of State is leaking badly

This was not a leak. It wasn’t even a ‘leak’.The 40-page document detailing Ireland’s budget plans for 2012 and 2013, and the covering letters of intent from Minister for Finance Michael Noonan discussed by the Bundestag’s finance committee yesterday were not faxed under cover of darkness from deep within the Department of Finance. They were sent – possibly faxed, possibly emailed as an attachment, possibly handed over in an envelope, who knows how these things get about – to the European Commission by the troika following its third quarterly review of how well Ireland is stifling economic growth and unravelling social protections. Or, implementing necessary austerity measures. The letters of intent from Michael Noonan, along with “confidential draft programme documents” were either sent directly to the European Commission by Mr Noonan’s office, or were given to the troika to insert into their review.

Not. A. Leak. Continue reading →

ifsc dublin

Ireland third most popular tax haven for FTSE100 companies

Our corporation tax rate was thrown into the spotlight once again this week when it was revealed that Ireland is the third most popular ‘tax haven’ in the world for subsidiaries of UK FTSE 100 companies. On Tuesday (11 October), UK based charity ActionAid released a comprehensive dataset and report on the location of these subsidiaries. It found that a quarter of all FTSE 100 company subsidiaries are located in tax havens. The charity’s research is based on information that had never been disclosed or analysed before this year.

ActionAid says:

UK law compels companies to report all of their subsidiary companies, together with their country of registration. When we looked for this information in early 2011, we discovered that more than half of the FTSE 100 were not complying with this legal obligation. When enquiries to individual companies failed to persuade them to disclose the information, we submitted complaints to Companies House, forcing the disclosures as part of companies’ annual returns.

While there is no standard definition of a ‘tax haven’, ActionAid’s dataset uses a list compiled by the US Government Audit Office (GAO) in 2008. That report notes: Continue reading →

private public education

Time to call time on fee-paying schools?

In the school year 2009-2010 the State paid out more than €107 million to fee-paying schools to cover the costs of salaries for teachers, clerical officers and special needs assistants in those schools. In the same year, more than €12 million was given to these schools in capital grants, grants for assistive technologies, and grants for computers and other ICTs. There are 56 fee-paying schools in the State. The State’s 776 free post primary schools* received just short of €46 million in grants for ICTs in 2010; fee-paying schools received €2.5 million. At a rough calculation (and bearing in mind the monies would not have been distributed evenly) this works out at just shy of €60,000 for each free post primary school, and €45,500 per fee-charging school. In total, between January 2007 and May 2011, fee-charging schools have received more than €531 million from the State to pay teachers, admin staff, install or upgrade ICT infrastructure, and build or upgrade school buildings. The 2009 McCarthy report estimated that, between them,these 56 schools raise €119 million annually in fees from parents.The Government will save some €2.7 million through the removal of 227 Special Needs Assistant posts in Irish schools, assuming all those unemployed SNAs are entitled to Jobseeker’s Benefit. Resource teaching posts for Travellers and the Visiting Teachers for Traveller Service were withdrawn in Budget 2011, effective 31 August this year. Language support has seen cutbacks in allocation. Rural co-ordinators for 331 DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity In Schools) schools were removed as part of Budget 2011 in order to save €24 million (although this figure does not take into account the cost to the exchequer of Jobseeker’s Benefit for those Rural Co-ordinators who subsequently went onto the Live Register) a cut which the current Government has no plan to reverse. Only two-thirds of the €150 million pledged as part of the Smart Schools=Smart Economy scheme launched in 2009 has been disbursed; the €63 million that was to be given to schools in 2011 was cut in December’s budget to €1.5 million. (The annual budget of €30 million “for support, rolling replacement and enhancement of the service” recommended by the Joint Advisory Group on the scheme seems to have been entirely abandoned.) In the context of such brutal austerity – not just in education, but across the board – and the infliction of the consequences of this austerity on some of the most vulnerable children in the State, the question must be asked: why do we continue to fund these fee-paying schools to such a degree? Continue reading →